Shining the spotlight on Mary Magdalene.
Mirroring the title and scope of Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906), Haag (The Tragedy of the Templars: The Rise and Fall of the Crusader States, 2013) pushes back legend and myth to uncover the real Mary Magdalene of the Christian Gospels. He also provides an exceptional overview of how she has been viewed by various cultures through the ages. As Haag points out several times, Mary Magdalene is far more important to the life story of Jesus—and far more prominent in that story—than Mary, the mother of Jesus. Yet Jesus’ mother has been exalted and venerated, while Mary Magdalene has been misunderstood and even reviled through the centuries. The author begins by examining the name Magdalene, noting that it does not derive from a place name but from the Aramaic term for “tower” and thus is a meaningful nickname given to Mary by Jesus. Haag follows Mary Magdalene’s presence (or possible presence) with Jesus throughout his known ministry, up to and including his entry into Jerusalem, trial, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. The early Gnostic Church exalted Mary Magdalene as a spiritual partner to Jesus, perhaps even as his lover. Similarly, the Cathars of southern France saw her as the bride of Christ. In both cases, these groups were destroyed by the established church, and Mary’s reputation was fixed by the interpretation of Pope Gregory I, given in a sermon in 591, that she had been a prostitute. It was an interpretation that would never fully disappear. Despite hinting at many possibilities, Haag never says outright if he believes Mary Magdalene was a lover or wife of Jesus or what special role she had. But he makes it clear that she was of greater importance to his life and ministry than the church has ever recognized.
A thought-provoking re-examination of a misunderstood heroine of the Bible.